Francis O'Gorman: On "Never Again Would Birds' Song Be the Same"

Frost's sonnet "Never Again Would Birds' Song Be the Same," from A Witness Tree (1942), is not usually included in selected editions of Frost's poetry. Nonetheless, it repays close attention, as has been amply illustrated by Judith Oster's deft reading of the poem in Toward Robert Frost. Oster considers it "one of the finest love poems we have" (246). However, as a love poem it is a peculiar one, and this peculiarity has not been sufficiently admitted.

The oddity lies in the poem's combination of touching intimacy and affection, with implicit suggestions of remoteness and distance. It is at once a delicately romantic poem and one that dwells on human aloneness and otherness in a relationship. Throughout the poem, Frost preserves "Eve" discretely from "He," the implied Adam. The poem allows that her voice is heard by the birds, and that the birds are heard by him, but there is an intriguing, insistent absence: The poem avoids reference to any direct communication between Eve and her lover. She seems to be heard and imitated by birds, and he hears them, but her "daylong voice" is not in dialogue or affectionate exchange with her lover. Her voice is solitary; its subject matter, its meaning, is kept from us, just as, perhaps, it does not reach him.

Indeed, Frost teases his reader in the middle of the sonnet with a suggestive enjambment: "Admittedly," we read, "an eloquence so soft / Could only have had an influence on birds / When call or laughter carried it aloft" (6-8). But the line break momentarily offers us the possibility that "an eloquence so soft / Could only have had an influence on birds," adding teasingly to the poem's subdued suggestions that Eve remains separate from the Adam figure, her words do not find him, her voice crosses with birds' song and not with his. Lines 13 and 14 read, "Never again would birds' song be the same. / And to do that to birds was why she came." So Frost's last line, a deeply affectionate way of describing the effect of Eve's presence and the amplitude of her personality, also preserves her otherness from Adam, leaving the reader again with her amid an audience of birds and with the continuing, quiet suggestion of a distance between her and her lover. That distance is perhaps implicit in the first line of the poem : "He would declare and could himself believe." But now we do not know to whom Adam makes his declaration.

WORKS CITED

Frost, Robert. "Never Again Would Bird's Song Be the Same." The Witness Tree. New York: Henry Holt, 1942.

Oster, Judith. Towards Robert Frost: The Reader and the Poet. Athens: U of Georgia P. 1991.

From The Explicator 58.2 (Winter 2000)

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Criticism Overview
Title Francis O'Gorman: On "Never Again Would Birds' Song Be the Same" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Francis O'Gorman Criticism Target Robert Frost
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 15 Feb 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication No Data
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